Everything I need to know about customer experience I learned from my mom

My mom was a trailblazer.

She was one of only a few women working in a technical role at IBM “back in the day.” But more importantly, she was a thought leader for customer experience before that phrase probably existed. She was very technical, a systems engineer, but spent most of her passion and energy on sales and service and even helped train other engineers.

Over the years, as I’ve had different jobs and roles, she has shared her stories with me. Stories of her dedication to the customer, stories of customers who would only deal with her (they didn’t trust anyone else), stories of co-workers and managers who doubted her but became believers.

If I were to try to condense these stories into a few tenets of customer experience, these are the top three I would select:

1. Listen, listen, listen

My mom is a certified listener. Well, I’m not sure you can get a certification for that, but if it existed, she would have one! Active listening skills are key and she would always tell me that even if she thought she knew what the customer wanted, she would ask “one more time” – not to annoy them, but to clarify that her understanding matched the customer’s understanding 100%. Knowing what the customer is really thinking and wanting is the foundation for a superior customer experience. You can’t start making promises or delivering on them until you know what to promise!

2. Say what you do, do what you say

This one is pretty simple. When you make a promise (and EVERYTHING we say implies a promise), you must keep it. So don’t say something if you can’t follow through on it. And if you say it, do it. This is what builds or breaks trust.

3. Make your customers feel special – because they are

The thing that made her so special was that she made her customers feel special. Because to her, they really were. It wasn’t an act or a sales technique. She got to know them – their background, their goals, their strengths and weaknesses. She wanted success for them. And she truly believed that her purpose was to listen and understand what the customer needed, and then determine the best way to meet those needs and make the customer successful.

At her retirement party a few years ago, her colleagues, managers and customers praised her for being an inspiration to them, for always delivering on her promises to them, and for caring about them above and beyond the sale. There were hugs, laughs, even tears. My family and I watched in awe. That is the kind of legacy that I’d like to leave, too. And I’m grateful to have such a wonderful example, mentor and teacher.

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